Sunday, January 31, 2010

Uganda and Homosexualiy: A Response

Several weeks ago I published a post about the West's preoccupation with the pending anti-homosexuality bill ni Uganda while completing disregarding actual instances of violence and upheaval in the country. I received a few replies noting that homosexuality is currently a "hot-button issue" in the States and therefore the (possible) involvement of Americans in the creation of the bill is what makes it so intriguing to the press. I admit I wrote my blog quickly and so did not fully explain my point; I will attempt to do that now.

There is the obvious theme behind the media coverage that the Ugandan parliament is only considering such a bill due to the powerful influence of the American pastors, an offensive suggestion that removes all agency from Ugandans and their ability to think and act independently of Western interference. Furthermore, African nations are often portrayed as violent and unstable regions. Thus, articles that include such phrases as "in a country where already thieves are attacked by deadly mobs" suggest that Uganda is a dangerous place that will only become more so with the passage of an anti-gay bill, which is completely false: Uganda is one of the safest country's on the continent and it is unlikely that the bill would change that. However, the image of Africa, and Uganda, as violent still pushes through in a self-fulfilling agenda: as reports come through largely in pictures and removed from all context, thus removing the possibility of understanding Africa in new ways.

LGBT rights are unquestionably on the minds of many Americans and internationals alike, with Prop 8 being contested in California courts and the recent legalization of same-sex marriages in Portugal. At the same time, considering the level of disappointment resulting from the Copenhagen Climate Conference and the continued involvement of America in the Middle East, so are the environment and oil. Yet scarce attention is given to oil drilling in Lake Albert, situated along Murchison Falls National park, home to several endangered species including leopard, elephant and shoebill stork. Though oil companies and President Museveni have vowed to ensure that drilling with clean and environmentally sound (despite a clear history of oil's negative impact on the continent) the newest oil contracts clearly take no account of the effects on the local populations, climate or wildlife, but rather are another example of company profit at the expense of country development. Also missing from Western media is discussion of the potential human disaster of drilling for oil in an area that straddles Uganda, a relatively stable country, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which notoriously is not. Perhaps the assumption is that particular border has seen conflict for at least the past fourteen years, so what's a little more?

Before joining the Western media's love affair with a potential bill, it's important to step back and see what the media is deleting from the news - and then consider how many innocent people die and how much land is destroyed in the international pursuit of oil and wealth.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ok with Violence, as Long as It's Not Against Gays

If you know anyone concerned with GLBT rights; or Africa; or just in Uganda; it's possible you have heard of the proposed legislation in the Ugandan parliament to criminalize homosexuality if not with the death penalty, then at least with life imprisonment. In face, even you are not aligned with any of the aforementioned focus groups you have probably heard of the legislation because Western media is all over it and the massive violation of human rights such legislation would be. There is a Facebook group concerning the issue; you can find countless blogs; or perhaps you read this particular New York Times article, which raised alarm over the possible increase of lynchings in a country where "mobs beat people to death for infractions as minor as stealing shoes."
What a violent, hate-filled country. Nevermind that such "mobs" and massive public disapproval of thievery actually make Uganda one of the safest countries in East Africa (if not the entire continent), especially for foreigners.
But such misconstrued and out-of-place comments are only to be expected from a Western media that, while completely entranced by the idea of anti-homosexuality legislation, manages to totally ignore episodes of actual violence. Last September, as those in Uganda may remember, the capital and surrounding areas were racked by riots for three days; the president made public addresses from Entebbe airport, ready to flee should the violence noticeably turn against him; people actually did die. Stemming from fairly legitimate complaints of the Banyala people against the intrusions of the Baganda kingdom, Bagandans rose up in violent support of their Kabaka (king). (The Independent gives a fairly good historical account.) Though the travel guides wave such incidents aside (in order to assuage foreign travellers) these riots were particularly demonstrative of the potential chaos that could erupt following the 2011 elections.
And how much media attention did this draw - Western media attention?
If this has left you confused, don't worry - the answer is close to nothing. No BBC blips, no international note in the NY Times, not even any blogs. Yes, and other such media outlets gave extensive coverage, for obvious reasons, but where was the Western media when the violence was only Africans against Africans? Why do all these reporters and bloggers only speak up when gays and lesbians are under attack? Do Africans, just as themselves, capture so little Western attention? For those Ugandans who claim that homosexuailty is a Western import, such lopsided coverage only serves to strengthen their belief.

To summarize: it's totally OK for Africans to attack and kill one another, as long as the victim isn't a homosexual.

And that's called human rights.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

No Peeking!

Years ago, when my sisters and I were much younger, our parents protected our innocent minds by ordering us to "cover our eyes" during nude or partially-nude scenes in movies. Though for them "cover your eyes, kids!" seemed like a declaration all parents should make in order to keep their children ignorant about sex and sexuality for as long as possible, for the three of us it was code for, "just look through your fingers!" I can remember many movie scenes viewed this way, though I can't always remember the movie the scenes were attached to.

Now that I am 29 I no longer have to cover my eyes to protect an innocence long shattered; however, the choice is not always mine. Movie theaters in Kuwait are all owned and operated by the Kuwait National Cinema Company (also known as Cinescape
), which is responsible for editing offensive or inappropriate scenes from movies, including love scenes and kisses. I knew of this practice in theory and saw in practice when Seth and I went to see Terminator: Salvation. You know that part in the beginning when Sam Worthington and Helena Bonham Carter's characters kiss? Well, I can only assume they kiss because one moment they're talking and, after an odd jump, are talking again. It's no big deal, really: what do kisses and love scenes add to a plot, anyway? So when Seth and I went to see Avatar last week we were told that two scenes were cut out but thought nothing of it.

Until the first cut came during nothing romantic, but a fight scene when alien wolf-like things are being killed. I was caught off guard, but whatever, right? Until 30 minutes or so later the screen suddenly went white. What the fuck, I thought, is something wrong with the film? We could hear the movie, only the picture was mysteriously missing. The white screen went away after a couple of minutes, yet returned during the mating scene. Again, we heard the movie but the screen remained obscured. Impatient and irritated I turned my attention towards the projection booth - and saw the man there holding a piece of paper in front of the projector. Seriously. A random fight scene was edited but when two characters "make their bond" all that's needed is a sheet of paper to uphold Islamic law and custom.

And the worst thing about it? I couldn't even peek.